N.Y., N.Y. (Francis Thompson, 1957)

Let’s take a look at another city symphony while we wait for the next MMC! proposal, specifically Francis Thompson’s wonderfully distorted tribute to life in New York City! Thompson’s short film celebrates the rhythms, geometries, and absurdities of city life through a variety of fanciful lenses, prisms, reflectors, and editing techniques (all of which Thompson was quite secretive about). Originally a painter and an art teacher, Thompson began his filmmaking career with The Evolution of the Skyscraper in 1939 and later won an Academy Award for To Be Alive! (1964). In a frequently quoted comment on the film, Aldous Huxley remarked on Thompson’s ability to escape colour photography’s tyrannical claim to verisimilitude and use the medium to further the voice of non-representational art. Huxley observed:

And then there is what may be called the Distorted Documentary a new form of visionary art, admirably exemplified by Mr. Francis Thompson’s film, NY, NY. In this very strange and beautiful picture we see the city of New York as it appears when photographed through multiplying prisms, or reflected in the backs of spoons, polished hub caps, spherical and parabolic mirrors. We still recognize houses, people, shop fronts, taxicabs, but recognize them as elements in one of those living geometries which are so characteristic of the visionary experience. The invention of this new cinematographic art seems to presage (thank heaven!) the supersession and early demise of non-representational painting. It used to be said by the non-representationalists that colored photography had reduced the old-fashioned portrait and the old-fashioned landscape to the rank of otiose absurdities. This, of course, is completely untrue. Colored photography merely records and preserves, in an easily reproducible form, the raw materials with which portraitists and landscape painters work. Used as Mr. Thompson has used it, colored cinematography does much more than merely record and preserve the raw materials of non-representational art; it actually turns out the finished product. Looking at NY, NY, I was amazed to see that virtually every pictorial device invented by the old masters of non-representational art and reproduced ad nauseam by the academicians and mannerists of the school, for the last forty years or more, makes its appearance, alive, glowing, intensely significant, in the sequences of Mr. Thompson’s film.

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The Phenix City Story (Phil Karlson, 1955)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Phenix City Story.

Corruption, brutality, and vice plagued Phenix City, Alabama, for 100 years, so who would dare to change it? Based on real-life events and filmed on location in what was called Sin City USA, director Phil Karlson’s semi-documentary tears this jolting tale from its Pulitzer Prize-winning headlines and tells the story of those citizens who risked their lives to bring down the burg’s syndicate of thugs and murderers. Signalling the end of stylish film noir and pointing to the crime-busting exposés that followed, this classic B-noir remains indelible for its shockingly transgressive violence, its unsettling authenticity, and its subtextual awareness of the struggling civil rights movement.

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Phil Karlson: The Core of Fact, a short appreciation featuring writer/film historian Alan K. Rode
  • New interview with critics and one-time Alabamans Jonathan Rosenbaum and Nathaniel Thompson
  • Historic photos of Sin City-era Phenix City
  • PLUS: An essay by critic R. Emmet Sweeney

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Jazz on a Summer’s Day (Bert Stern, 1959)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Jazz on a Summer’s Day.

In his sole effort in filmmaking, celebrated fashion photographer Bert Stern surveyed the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival to create a now-classic document of ’50s America and capture some of the most stunning images of live jazz ever brought to the silver screen, featuring performances by Louis Armstrong, Anita O’Day, Thelonius Monk, and Dinah Washington, as well as rock and roller Chuck Berry and gospel icon Mahalia Jackson. Stern, with assistance from editor and co-director Aram Avakian and jazz producer and musical director George Avakian, brings onscreen jazz music from smoky nightclubs to the colorfully sunny days of affluent Rhode Island, infusing these images with his distinctively clear and uncluttered aesthetic. Juxtapozing the Festival with footage of its audience, of life in and around Newport, and of the ongoing America’s Cup yacht races, Jazz on a Summer’s Day immortalizes the breezy cool of the era before it was overtaken by rock music and the tumultuous Sixties.

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New audio commentary featuring jazz and film critic Gary Giddins and radio host Tom Reney
  • New introduction to the film by Giddins
  • New interview with musician Keith Richards
  • A Summer’s Day, an interactive documentary with director Bert Stern with additional scenes
  • Jammin’ the Blues, photographer Gjon Mili’s 1944 short film with optional audio commentary by Giddins
  • Selection of unreleased performances and footage
  • Stills gallery, featuring the work of renowned photographer Bruce Davidson
  • Optional captions identifying artists and song titles
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An interview with Stern with John Guida and an essay by historian Arik Devens

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A Face in the Crowd (Elia Kazan, 1957)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents A Face in the Crowd.

Before he brought Mayberry, North Carolina, into American homes and became an icon of moral rectitude as Sheriff Andy Taylor, Andy Griffith burst onto cinema screens as Lonesome Rhodes, a charismatic drifter with a canny, down-home wit and an avaricious taste for status and influence. After charming Arkansas radio reporter Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) and becoming a local media star, Rhodes leverages his growing popularity into national television fame and a trusted position among political and industrial power-brokers. Gradually Rhodes is corrupted by his own success and his laid-back attitude gives way to a monstrous off-camera personality. With stand-out supporting performances by Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa, and Lee Remick, director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg create a roaring statement against grassroots fascism, advertising fakery, and the pernicious influence of television on the political process.

Disc Features:

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Aboard the Calypso – Sea and Cinema with Jacques Cousteau

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Aboard the Calypso – Sea and Cinema with Jacques Cousteau.

Explorer. Inventor. Author. Conservationist. Filmmaker. Jacques Cousteau was an iconic figure in marine exploration, spending more than sixty years investigating undersea kingdoms and sharing his tales with the world. Over three award-winning feature films spanning twenty years, Cousteau reveals the beauty and dangers beneath the waves of the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, and the frozen Antarctic, finding seldom seen tropical wonders, describing the pressures of living in an underwater base for weeks at a time, and persevering through the life or death struggle to survive at the South Pole. Both the committed naturalist and the keen showman, Cousteau portrayed his oceanic marvels with the idealism and the spectacle of science fiction and inspired generations to care for alien worlds here at home and no longer hidden from view.

Special Edition Three-Blu Ray Set Features:

  • New high definition digital transfers of The Silent World, World Without Sun, and Voyage to the Edge of the World, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-rays
  • French and English-language audio tracks
  • Introductions by Wes Anderson, James Cameron, and Werner Herzog
  • Of Silence and Men: The Pioneers of The Silent World, a 50-minute documentary featuring interviews with Jacques Cousteau, co-director Louis Malle, camera designer André Laban, Cousteau scholar Franck Machu, and Malle biographer Pierre Billard
  • Two Men, A Masterpiece, an interview with Jacques Cousteau and Louis Malle
  • The Silent World’s Legacy, interviews with Jacques Cousteau, Luc Besson, and Jacques Perrin
  • Early films of Jacques Cousteau: 18 Meters DeepShipwrecksLandscapes of Silence, Seals in the Sahara, Around a Reef, Off Tunisian CoastsOne sortie du “Rubis,” SCUBA DiaryDanger Under the SeaRhythm on the Reef, and The Red Sea
  • Station 307 and The Fountain of the Vaucluse, a pair of short films by Louis Malle made in collaboration with Jacques Cousteau
  • Edmond Séchan’s Academy Award-winning short The Golden Fish, produced by Jacques Cousteau
  • Restoration demonstration
  • Trailers
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by filmmaker Luc Jacquet and excerpts from Cousteau’s 1953 book The Silent World: A Story of Undersea Discovery and Adventure

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Trailer Tuesday

Criterion’s announcement of new releases for May was a landslide of titles with a stunning nine new films joining the Collection and two blu-grades thrown in for good measure. It’s pretty impressive for a month without any titles including the name “Zatoichi.” And while Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 2 is an amazing addition that includes titles by Edward Yang, Lino Brocka, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, MMC! is most excited by the new edition of Yasujiro Ozu’s Good Morning (1959), a delightful film with a very dated DVD. Here’s hoping that Shochiku’s 4K restoration is as great an up-grade as Tatsuro Kiuchi’s new cover treatment!

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